Pregame Read: Winning In Tampa Is Always Tough

The Saints are 1-0. That’s obviously the best-case scenario after the first game. 4-0 would look even better because of the schedule after week four.

It’s not outside the realm of possibility for the team to knock off the Buccaneers, Cardinals and Dolphins in succession. Then it’s the Bears and Patriots before the bye week. Some combination of wins and losses that adds up to 6-2 at the halfway point is reasonable.

The Bills and Jets are next, before things really heat up with a stretch that includes the Cowboys, 49ers, Falcons and Seahawks. Those four games will likely be the make-or-break point in the season.

But before I get too far ahead of myself, let’s not lose sight of the game that stands between 2-0 and 1-1.

When the Saints play the Bucs on Sunday, they will do so in a place where they’ve had some degree of success during the Sean Payton/Drew Brees era.

The Saints are 4-3 at Raymond James Stadium (Payton is 3-3 there) and have won three of the past four. Win or lose, playing the Bucs in Tampa is always tough. The stadium is hot. I’ll repeat that for emphasis. The stadium is H-O-T, especially in September.

In 2007, I was working in Orlando and some friends and I planned a road trip to the Tampa game. They flew into town on Saturday, we loaded up the car on Sunday, made the two-hour drive and were ready for a big Saints win.

We needed one.

The team was coming off a nationally televised, season-opening 41-10 blowout loss to Peyton Manning and the Colts.

We had the customized Saints CD blaring from my car.

We playfully taunted Bucs fans.

We were awfully cocky for fans of an 0-1 team that had just been destroyed a week earlier.

Drew Brees and Co. had to roll into Tampa and win. We were virtually guaranteeing it. I mean, Jeff Garcia was their quarterback.

So much for that.

Two Cadillac Williams scores and two Joey Galloway scores later it was 28-0. The Saints managed two late touchdowns and lost 31-14. It was ugly.

But what I remember most is that stadium — a hot, miserable place.

To this day it remains hell on earth in my mind. It was so, so hot that day. I looked it up; the temperature was 84 degrees with 72 percent humidity. There was even a 7 mph wind, according to the all-knowing Internet. I must have been at the concession stand when that wind passed through.

Our seats were in what is apparently the hottest part of that concrete jungle. I guess that’s why they were available and were so close to the field. It was direct, scorching sun for most of the game. We were praying for a cloud or a blimp or a giant bug to block the sun for just 30 seconds. There was a short-lived downpour at one point, but once it ended, the stadium only seemed to get hotter.

The Saints stumbled to an 0-4 start that season and finished 7-9. We walked out of Raymond James Stadium and wondered what had just happened. This team had just been to the NFC Championship!

Now the Saints are trying to bounce back from another 7-9 season. The trek back to dominance continues with another September game in Tampa. And it’ll be hot.

I’m just glad I’ll be on my sofa this time.

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